Meta is suing a surveillance company for using Facebook and Instagram to collect user data by creating tens of thousands of fake accounts.
On Thursday, the social media giant said that it was initiating legal action in the US to ban Voyager Labs from Facebook and Instagram for creating fake accounts and scraping user data.
The legal action follows a Guardian investigation that revealed the company had partnered with the Los Angeles police department (LAPD) in 2019.
Voyager Labs claimed that it could use social media information to predict who may commit a future crime.
According to public records obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-profit organization, Voyager’s services enabled police to surveil and investigate people by reconstructing their digital lives and making assumptions about their activity, including their network of friends.
Records show that Voyager suggested that an Instagram name displaying Arab pride or tweeting about Islam showed signs of potential extremism.
In the filing, Meta alleges that Voyager violated its Terms of Service against fake accounts and unauthorized and automated scraping.
‘Companies like Voyager are part of an industry that provides scraping services to anyone regardless of the users they target and for what purpose, including as a way to profile people for criminal behavior,’ said Meta in a blog post.
‘This industry covertly collects information that people share with their community, family and friends, without oversight or accountability, and in a way that may implicate people’s civil rights,’
Voyager Labs, which claims that it provides ‘AI-based investigation solutions’, has offices in the US, the United Kingdom, Israel, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
Voyager is accused of operating more than 38,000 fake Facebook accounts to collect information from more than 600,000 Facebook users, including posts, likes, friends lists, photos, comments and information from groups and pages, according to the complaint.
The company allegedly designed its software to go undetected by Meta, while selling and licensing the data it obtained for a profit.
Employees of non-profits, universities, media organizations, healthcare facilities, the US armed forces and local, state and federal government agencies, along with full-time parents, retirees and union members were subject to Voyager’s activity according to Meta.
It is unclear who Voyager’s clients were at that time or what the data was used for.
The recent lawsuit echoes the 2018 Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal where the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was harvested without their knowledge or permission.